More than Rupees 3,500 crore has to be had from the government just for the education of Christian children from primary to doctorate and foreign studies in the next six years – if only the Church and laity wake up and help. Ballpark estimates say almost a crore of boys and girls of economically disadvantaged rural and urban families from the pre-primary to PhDs, engineering, medical and professional courses students could be assisted.
The money is in the government’s Plan budgets. And this is apart from the money that is spent on minority-concentrated districts – and hopefully block level units in the future – by various ministries such as those of Social Welfare, rural development and even of water supply for the befit of the minorities after the Justice Rajender Sachchar committee excavated the bitter fact that these areas continued to suffer from lack of development even when compared to “general” districts in the backwards group.
According to the data available with the Planning Commission’s Working group on Minorities, the Budget provisions under the ongoing Five year Plan for the period 2010 is Rupees 2,600 crores, making a total of Rs 7,000 crores for the 11th Plan. For the 12th Plan now under preparation, a massive sum of Rs 15,000 crore is envisaged for scholarship and other schemes under the Ministry of Minorities Affairs. This is for all minorities to be distributed on a pro rata basis. The Christian community is about a fifth the size of the Muslim community according to official records. Their share of the entire amount is 20 per cent, a whopping figure. Rule of thumb statistics put the number of Christian students at one crore, including Tribals who continue to get benefits under the Scheduled Tribes quotas.
This figure does not include Dalit Christians who are neither counted a Scheduled Caste, nor as Christian unless they so register themselves. In starts such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Naidu, even in Kerala and Maharashtra, many want to be listed as Hindus so that they can get the Scheduled caste benefits denied to them so cruelly under the Presidential order of 1950. [The case has been before the Supreme Court for a number of years, and it is not clear when there will be a ruling on it.]
The government releases these funds under several schemes, including the Maulana Azad Foundation, free coaching and allied schemes, equity to the National Minorities Development Fund, Research and monitoring studies, grants in aid to state governments, schemes for leadership development among young women, interest free subsidy on academic bank loans for studies abroad in addition to separate funds for centrally sponsored scholarship schemes.
The leadership of the Muslim community ahs woken up this fact. Deeply focused and committed NGOs have been set up to ensure that every student who qualifies for the merit cum means and other scholarships gets the benefit and is not left to the mercy of fate. Muslim NGOs and religious leadership, according to their statements, may have been successful in ensuring that over 80 lakh students have scholarships this year, specially in states such as Andhra, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh with large Muslim populations, because of the initiative taken by the community leadership.
There is unfortunately a hiatus in the mass communication of such scholarships despite the claims of the central and state governments. An additional problem is the red tape, an uncaring state bureaucracy, and the lack of cooperation from both private second and public sector banking institutions. The forms have to be taken from local education officers, or downloaded from the internet website of the government, not an easy task in rural areas or where the 2G and 3G networks do not exist, and internet cafes are continuously harried by the police looking for “suspects”. Once the forms are procured and distributed, they have to be correctly filled up, the signatures of uncooperative principals appended to them, income certificates wrested out of empowers of the parents – and difficult if the family in unemployed – various other certificates received, and then the entire bunch uploaded to the department’s website, with the papers submitted to the appropriate authority.
Muslim grassroots experience has shown that this is an impossible task for a child or a parent to do unless expert assistance is available. This is where the special NGOs and volunteers have entered the scene to help the students. The results have been miraculous.
The same NGOs are now pressing on the Government through the Ministry of Minority Affairs and the Planning commission that at least 6 crore Muslim students be given scholarships in the 12th Five year Plan. They have assured the government that they would be able to assist as many students of the community across India to avail of the scholarships. The NGOs have also urged the authorities to streamline the scholarship process, specially as the students rise to higher classes in their institutions to ensure that scholarships are available for the entire course and not just for one year. This, they feel, will encourage the students to complete their studies instead of dropping out if the scholarship is terminated because they do not get a 50 per cent score in some year.
Compare this with the Christian situation. It to the best of this writer’s knowledge, no catholic or protestant church group, nor any lay association, has set up such a extensive and committed support infrastructure to assist its student community. The catholic Bishops Conference or its constituents in the Latin, Syro Malabar and Syro Malankara Rites, the National Council of Churches in India representing almost 30 Protestant churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of India do not have the institutions to do this work. This has been left to the Dioceses or individual regional churches. But even in their sectarian – denominational – way, they are almost entirely ineffective.
In almost every state, when the Bishops of the dioceses are informed of the availability of the scholarships, all that they do is to ask Parish priests to announce it after Mass one day. School principals put the scholarship details on the notice board.
The lay organisations, wherever they exist have not even done this, though some of them offer pitifully small scholarships for the poor of the parish by way of charity.
The result of course is that most students are out of the coverage of these schemes, both for the pre Matric classes and in higher education.
A large chunk of the money has lapsed. And there is pitifully little database for advocacy groups to work with the Planning Commission’s Working Group of Minorities drafting the Minorities component of the Plan. Christian leadership has done almost no research on how much of the government’s scholarships have been actually used countrywide. The Muslim monitoring of the government schemes has to be seen to be believed. After the Sachchar commission report, the country’s largest minority has understood that information is power, and an important tool in influencing the making of government policy. The church leadership is yet to understand this.
The minorities are of course demanding that their quota be built into all schemes as a special component, much on the lines of the Scheduled caste ad Scheduled Tribes quotas that are constitutionally built into all government plan spending. It is a moot question that the government will accept this demand, beset as it is by charges from the Bharatiya Janata party that it is appeasing minorities in general and the Muslim community in particular. The phrase “vote bank politics” has become a stick in the hands of the Hindutva forces to beat the government and force it to withdraw from pr-active measures for the amelioration of the poor of the minorities, who are doubly disadvantaged. Their women and the Dalit components have thier future blinded three-fold.
The situation will be corrected once the community becomes pro-active, and its leadership assumes responsibility on ensuring that the benefits reach the youth, and the women.
July 21, 2011